Whenever the game clock is dead and there isn’t some kind of to-do transpiring on the court — the Lakers Girls prancing about and smiling as earnestly as they can, or a fan attempting a half-court shot that might win a free airline ticket, or two kids matching foul shots, or some other kind of vaudevillian family fun — the huge four-sided screen above the scoreboard flashes images of apparently random fans dancing, singing, and bopping in time to the loud Muzak. The lucky fans wave their hands in a frenzy when the camera catches them in the act. In La La Land, five seconds of fame is good enough.
Of course, the only fans who make the cut are all wearing some kind of official Lakers apparel.
There’s a hugely pregnant woman in a Lakers t-shirt wiggling her hips and clapping her hands. Upon seeing her image on the screen, she lifts her shirt to reveal an orange basketball painted on her distended belly.
Shaquille O’Neal: “I like playing for PJ because he has great communication with the players. He’s prepared for every situation, he’s fair, and he means what he says. And I also like the Triangle because traditional offenses are boring.”
I watch the game from a press table situated behind one of the baselines. One of the game officials is Kenny Mauer, a CBA (Continental Basketball Association) graduate. During a time-out, I salute Mauer as he assumes the referees’ standard hands-on-hips dead-ball pose while he casually scans the nearby crowd. He’s a small, slender man with black hair slicked back a la Pat Riley, and his gaunt face lights up when he sees me.
“Charley,” he calls out, “what’re you doing here?”
“I’m working on a book with Phil.”
But he can’t hear me, so he beckons me to the apron of the court. I lean over the head of one of the courtside luminaries (Goldie Hawn) as I repeat my answer.
“Good to see you,” Mauer says, extending his right hand, which I grasp lightly.
Why am I doing this? Actually going out of my way to talk to a referee, and an unusually arrogant one at that? “Fine,” I say. And despite myself, I seem to be enjoying the glow of my momentary celebrity. Perhaps even Goldie Hawn will be impressed.
Mauer and I stare at each other, waiting for the game to resume, searching for something more to say. The best I can come up with is this: “You were the first one who ever kicked me out of a game.”
“Get up here,” he says with a friendly sneer, “and I’ll toss you again.”
My own five seconds of fame are terminated by a loud horn, the game restarts, and Goldie Hawn never turns her head as I return to my seat.”
Ron Harper (a Lakers guard who once played with Chicago): “Playing the Triangle is fun. If the Bulls were graduate students, we’re still at a third-grade level here.”
What’s it like learning the Triangle from the beginning again? Are you learning anything you may have missed the first time around?
“I ain’t missed shit. I know the Triangle like the back of my hand. I know what PJ’s gonna call before he opens his mouth.”
In Phil’s office at the Healthcenter, we’re watching Pete Maravich’s famous how-to video on the intricacies of dribbling when Tex sticks his head into the room.
“Who’s that?” Tex asks.
Pistol Pete, with his Beatles’ haircut and floppy socks. “What do you mean, who’s that?” Phil says.
Tex stares at the video and talks to Maravich: “Keep your head up, son. You can’t survey the damn court with your head down.” When Maravich lifts his gaze from the ball, Tex says, “That’s good.”
Phil shakes his head, saying, “Look at all that stuff he can do without palming the ball. Guys today don’t need this kind of instruction. They just palm the ball while the refs suck on their whistles.”
“It’s a disgrace,” says Tex.